While Alameda largely avoided the type of civil unrest seen in neighboring cities earlier this month, an incident involving the arrest of Mali Watkins, an Alameda resident who is black, for dancing and exercising in the street on May 23, continues to roil City Hall.
Alameda Poice Chief Paul Rolleri, without the input of city officials, rolled out a sweeping reorganization last Thursday for when and how police will respond to non-violent calls for service.
Among the proposed changes were directives against responding to mental health incidents, homeless encampments, quality of life issues such as noise disturbances, open alcohol containers, public urination, and no traffic stops unless an officer witnesses a suspected felony or misdemeanor crime.
The changes also discontinued police responding to welfare checks that occur in public, a likely reference to the Watkins case, which was precipitated by a resident who notified police of a black man dancing in the middle of the street last month.
Amid already strong criticism being hurled toward the city’s police department since the arrest of Watkins, some observers on social media equated Rolleri’s swift action to effectively taking his ball and going home with it.
But Alameda City Manager Eric Levitt told the East Bay Times that Rolleri’s proposed changes will be put on hold until the city can formulate a plan for possible implementation.
Rolleri’s abrupt move, which he said is a response to the community’s concerns over policing, comes at a time when his future is increasingly uncertain. There are questions whether Rolleri proffered false or incomplete information to city officials shortly after word of the Watkins incident began filtering across social media.
Furthermore, Rolleri’s involvement in the controversy that triggered a civil grand jury investigation into allegations that Counclmember Jim Oddie and Malia Vella violated the City Charter, still rankles progressives in Alameda to this day.